Monday, February 23, 2015

Signature Rock Loop - 2/23/15

Signature Rock in Pinto Valley

Color and Cryptobiotic Soil

Snow on Muddy Mountain

 After several weeks of wonderful spring-like weather, winter reminded us that it wasn't finished! With snow covering (and still falling at) Red Rock and the Spring Mountains, four hikers headed out to the Lake Mead NRA hoping that the weather was a little better there. It was but the snow was falling out there, too. Frenchman Mountain, River Mountain and Muddy Mountain all had a pretty decent dusting of snow going on. With the temperatures around 40 to 45 degrees and a cold off and on light wind, we were fine and enjoyed the hike.

Cottonwood Spring Dry Fall (A Challenge when it's Wet)
 We parked at the mile marker 18 on Northshore Road and started hiking up the Pinto Valley Wash at a good pace. The hikers were well-matched and we arrived at Cottonwood Spring quickly. The wash was damp from overnight rains and the dry fall was now a damp fall. We tried and managed to get up the slippery fall but it took a bit of effort since shoes were a little muddy already.

Following the Road / Wash
 Next, we continued past the wash junction and headed up to the reinforced Arrowhead Highway switchback. Here, we stopped to take off our outer layer. We were warming up but a few snow flurries anointed us now and then.

Pinto Valley Wash / Arrowhead Highway

 We hit the switchback and hiked over the road's high point then started descending into a very colorful area. Unfortunately, with the color came thick sticky mud underfoot! We all tried to avoid the worst of it but we all ended up with at least a half inch of mud stuck to the bottom of our shoes several different times throughout the hike. More on the mud later!

After the Arrowhead Highway Switchback
 The road curved around to the left then climbed up the hill to the left to run parallel to the wash. We stayed in the wash being very careful when we had to drop down rock veins that crossed our path. "Slippery" and "mud" should probably be the words for the day!

The Wash (Road is Above to the Left)
 The snow flurries stopped about here and the sun broke through the clouds a few times but the wind picked up as soon as we hiked into the openness of Pinto Valley.

Eagle Rock

 We opted to skip one small petroglyph area that is further away and turned the corner to the right to hike up to the larger petroglyph site. The terrain was so soft that even if we stepped on rocky areas, we sunk down about an inch. We did a circular exploration of the site looking for any and all petroglyphs. These writings were definitely older than many we have seen in southern Nevada. Desert varnish has covered the petroglyphs that were chiseled into desert varnish.

The Petroglyph Area
 Upon leaving the area, we discovered one more petroglyph that we had not seen before. Wouldn't it be interesting if the design in the photo below (top left) is an actual Kokopelli?

Some of the Petroglyphs (Is that Kokopelli upper left?)
 Perhaps we just have a large imagination. Anyway, from there, we returned to the major wash and hiked on down the valley to Signature Rock.

Pinto Valley from Signature Rock

 At Signature Rock, we took a short long break. The most interesting signature in the rock is the oldest one seen in the photo to the right. Up above the large rock, there is one small petroglyph found among the boulders. We didn't stay long because the wind was "sweeping down the plain." So we retraced our steps a little way up to a smaller wash on the right side that headed up toward the Chocolate Hills. (Today, it was more like Fudge Hills.)

Heading Up to the Chocolate Hills
 This wash provided a lot of sticky mud and when we reached the long water slide, we had to attempt to clean our shoes before starting up. We were very careful on our ascent.

Water Slide in Small Wash
 After the water slides, we followed a trail that led up a hill between two deep washes. Each of the washes have difficult large dry falls that we were avoiding. The trail led us down and over to a labyrinth of mud hills.

Mud Labyrinth at Chocolate Hills

 We decided to go ahead and see if the mud trail might be conquered. We followed the tiny mud washes until we found the trail that would take us up to the small ridge. The lead hiker tried and slipped back after only about 3 feet of climb. It was a no-go. So, we continued up the same tiny wash we were in and, at the end, there was a rocky slope that allowed entry to the top. Next, we crossed over to another slot wash that we called the Gateway. Down, we went, all the way to the Arrowhead Highway not far below the switchback. The new route was a very nice new find. From there, we retraced our steps from earlier back to the cars. (Except, we did use the around trail at Cottonwood Spring!) Very fun albeit chilly morning!

9 miles; 1300 feet elevation gain; 4.5 hours

Crossing Over to the Gateway Wash Descent

Descending Gateway Wash (New Route)

Starting Down the Road Again

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